DoT seeks industry views on blocking mobile apps like FB, Whatsapp, Instagram in specific situations
New Delhi, Aug 6: The telecom department has sought views of the industry on technical measures that can be adopted for blocking mobile apps like instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc in situations where national security and public order are under threat.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) on July 18, 2018, had written to all telecom operators, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and others and asked for their inputs to block the applications under Section 69A of the IT Act. "DoT in the letter had said that the Ministry of Electronics and IT and law enforcement agencies have raised issue around blocking of certain mobile apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telecom, etc to meet requirement under Section 69A of IT Act," a government source aware of the development told PTI. However, a source at DoT, on condition of anonymity, said there is no such move to block any app and the telecom department started consultation based on a reference from the IT ministry.
The Section 69A of IT Act talks about power to issue directions for blocking for public access to any information through any computer resource. The law authorises the central government or any officer authorised by it to issue direction to block the information on Internet in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to them.
"Meity (Ministry of Electronics and IT) has informed DoT that blocking such apps during emergency situations are difficult as they work through multiple IP addresses and on different protocols, and hence there is a need for a reasonable good solution to protect national security. Being the licensing authority, DoT has initiated the discussion based on a letter received from the Group Coordinator, Cyber Law Division (MeitY) during the second week of July," a DoT official said.
In response to DoT consultation, industry body Assocham said that proposed measure to evolve mechanisms to block applications as a whole at the telecom operator level is excessive, unnecessary, and would greatly harm India's reputation as growing hub of innovation in technology. Assocham said that with the development in technology, there have emerged tools such as virtual private network which enables users to access content that may have been blocked at telecom service provider (TSP) or internet service provider (ISP) level. "In this scenario, blocking of applications at the TSP/ISP level may not be an efficacious solution as users can get around the same with increasing ease. Therefore, the focus on developing mechanism to block content may be unwarranted," Assocham said.
Recently, there have been widespread incidents of mob lynching in the country based on rumours spread through social media apps. The popular messaging app, WhatsApp, has been in the eye of storm over abuse of its platform for circulation of fake news that resulted in incitement of mob fury. An IT ministry official, who did not wish to be named, said, WhatsApp has not committed itself on "traceability" and attribution of messages, which had been one of the key demands of the government. Hence, the ministry's concerns have not been addressed and the potential for misuse still remains, the source said. Last month, the government had expressed dissatisfaction over measures previously listed by WhatsApp for checking fake news that have, in several cases, triggered mob violence.
The IT ministry, in its missive, had said that WhatsApp cannot escape from its responsibility for such rampant abuse of its platform and needed to find originators of provocative messages. The government, in its second notice to the Facebook-owned messaging service, had warned that in the absence of adequate checks, it will treat the messaging platform as 'abettor' of rumour propagation and legal consequences will follow.
WhatsApp told the government it is building a local team, including India head, as part of steps to check fake news circulation. The mobile messaging platform also said that attributing messages on WhatsApp would undermine the private nature of WhatsApp and create the potential for serious misuse. It added that the focus of the firm is on improving its platform and working closely with others in society to help keep people safe.